Many persons who are deserving of charges are not captured by typical investigations of motor vehicle collisions.
Look at the scenario above which commences when traffic is diverted due to a closed lane. The driver of the BMW SUV has been forced into the left lane along with all eastbound drivers at this Oxford Street location in London, Ontario. When this occurs vehicles become more compressed and visibility ahead becomes more limited.
In the next photo we see that an elderly rider of a limited-mobility scooter is seen in the centre, left-turn lane, and it appears he is intending to cross from north to south. It is possible that our BMW driver could have seen the scooter since, looking at the shadow caused by the vehicle ahead, there would appear to be a clear line of sight. But the BMW driver may not be focused on that area of the road. The BMW driver may be focused on the upcoming opening in the right lane and the opportunity to pass the vehicle ahead using that right lane.
Looking at the photo below it is clear that other eastbound vehicles are moving into the right lane after passing the area of construction. Or perhaps an eastbound vehicle has stopped in the left lane to allow the elderly scooter driver an opportunity to complete his crossing.
Indeed the photo below shows that the BMW driver steers into the right lane. And the elderly driver of the scooter is no longer in the median. So where is the scooter rider? In front of the white SUV? In front of the BMW SUV? Will this result in a death? Note that we see the illumination of brake lights in the white SUV on the left as well as the BMW on the right.
Fortunately the photo below shows that the elderly scooter rider passes through the intersection and the crisis is resolved.
However, consider who would be to blame if the scooter rider was struck.
Most likely the elderly rider of the scooter would be blamed for attempting to cross a busy, four-lane road at a dangerous location.
But what about the driver of the White SUV? Did this driver stop and cause the scooter driver to understand that it was safe to cross?
And what about the BMW SUV? Could a collision be avoided if the driver was more patient or more attentive to the surroundings?
How would we make these assessments?
Event Data Recorders (EDRs) can help. Modern vehicles are equipped with electronic modules that constantly monitor the motion of equipped vehicles. When a sudden change in speed occurs that resembles a collision the module will begin to store the data a few seconds preceding the event as well as for a short time afterward. But the change in vehicle motion must be of a sufficient magnitude to “wake up” the system. Impacts with pedestrians or bicycles would generally not be sufficient to wake up the system. And given the relatively small mass of the scooter and rider a similar situation would occur.
If the BMW struck the scooter and a recording was made, then there might be information about the BMW’s pre-impact speed, if and when braking was applied, and other important facts such as whether the BMW driver sped up by stepping on the accelerator pedal when he ought to have detected the scooter. But the timing of these events cannot always be determined from EDR data.
For example, the EDR can not tell an investigator the precise location of the white SUV that was in front of the BMW. So an investigator would not know the degree to which that white SUV prevented the BMW driver from detecting the scooter rider. Proving that the driver of the white SUV deliberately stopped to allow the scooter to pass might be difficult. In all likelihood the driver of the BMW would be absolved of any wrong-doing because the BMW driver “had the right-of-way”. The right-of-way is an ugly term coded in Highway Traffic Acts throughout North America. It allows for many judicial, bad decisions to be made expediently and unjustly.
We can also ask another question: Why would the City of London not face charges in a situation like this? Imagine that an employee of the City’s transportation department had sufficient training and data to understand that there were frequent attempts by pedestrians, cyclists and medical scooter drivers to cross this portion of Oxford Street. Imagine that this employee’s manuals told him/her that certain thresholds were met for the installation of some form of traffic control. Imagine that there were discussions with City politicians about costs and that this ultimately resulted in postponing of such traffic controls. Should the consequences of a death or serious, permanent injury be placed solely upon the drivers of the motor vehicles and scooter? Should the City also bear some responsibility?
In many instances there are multiple factors that, in their combined influence, determine whether a collision will occur and the magnitude of its consequences. Some understanding of these many factors must be had and considered. Collisions are complex matters but their causes are rarely, correctly identified. No education, experience, honorary titles and medals, or fancy equipment can improve this failing if there is no genuine interest in pursuing the truth. Too often cause for motor vehicle collisions is determined using simplistic logic that sounds true, rudimentary calculations that mimic science, and a belief by the general public that there is a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain who has all the answers.